5.29 Planning eCommerce for Corporations

While corporations don't face the time and financial restraints of small ecommerce merchants, their problems are equally daunting — the need for:

1. Astute decisions on technical matters.
2. Strategic planning that integrates very different disciplines and departments.
3. Delivery of complex projects within time and budget.

Moreover, they are often handicapped by:

1. Tangled management structures.
2. Changing objectives.
3. Non-communication and/or rivalry between divisions.
4. Decision-making remote from shopfloor realities.
5. Wavering commitment to ebusiness.

As a result, the larger companies often get ecommerce wrong — bloated graphic design, poor navigation, nonexistent customer feedback, a confusing ordering process.

Project Management

Some 90% of IT projects overrun on time and/or budgets. Specialized software exists for project management, but experience suggests it's also wise to:

1. Get main board approval: ideally one director should be personally responsible for and committed to the project.
2. Appoint a project leader who enjoys the confidence of staff and senior management.
3. Make sure objectives and delivery times are crystal clear and agreed by all parties.
4. Not be overly-ambitious: stick as far as possible to tried and tested solutions.
5. Test to ensure that plans are realistic; then add a generous contingency factor.
6. Employ the right staff: i.e. find staff for the project rather than tailor the project to the staff available.
7. Achieve a proper balance of personalities: the visionaries and the solid coders.
8. Outsource sections if necessary but monitor closely and insist on onerous penalties for noncompliance.
9. Establish a proper reporting structure with clear responsibilities and reporting procedures.
10. Instigate regular meetings, if necessary training staff in these essential skills.
11. Keep senior management fully up to date on time and cost expectations.

Skills Integration

All businesses require a mix of specialized skills, but the need for understanding between very different disciplines and personalities becomes acute in corporate ecommerce. Senior management is responsible for the company's future position in the market place. Sales will understand marketing and customer psychology. The Art Department involves itself with company image and branding. Only the IT Department knows what is and is not feasible on the programming side. Any website that doesn't marry and build on all these disciplines is doomed to failure.

Essential is respect for and understanding of different jobs — not as a pious wish, but by practical measures: detailed project management, consultation and temporary secondments. The better staff are usually curious of other departments and enjoy having their horizons broadened. Cross fertilization can achieve wonders in a demanding but supportive working environment.

Corporate Ecommerce Solutions

Even large companies with their own IT staff often prefer to buy and adapt a fully-functioning, integrated system rather than develop their own software from scratch.

A brief listing of some popular systems:

      Arriba. Wide range of solutions available, including those to streamline a company's internal operations.
      BroadVision. Ecommerce and content management solutions with emphasis on personalization and customer relationship management.
      OpenMarket. Comprehensive set of tools to develop all aspects of ebusiness: products, entertainment, marketing, content. Caters for wide range of platforms and formats.
      Websphere. One of a wide suite of IBM corporate products.
      iPlanet. Sun's Application Server. Java platform with live and historical traffic reporting.
      Kana iCare Suite of integrated programs for ecommerce and crm.
      mySAP. Various solutions for large companies wishing to streamline operations.

Questions

1. What problems do staff in large corporations commonly face in implementing ecommerce?
2. Suggest some practical measures for managing such projects.
3. Compare three popular corporate ecommerce solutions. How far is an objective appraisal possible?

Sources and Further Reading

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